Knicks Get The Perfect Point Guard Mentor in Sessions

A little more than a week ago, University of Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox texted Ramon Sessions and asked if his former point guard would be willing to come to Athens and watch his team workout.

Fox received a return text almost immediately.

“What time do you need me?’’

That’s the player the Knicks have signed to be their veteran point guard, possibly their starter, and definitely the player to mentor first round pick Frank Ntilikina and second-year pro Ron Baker.

“Ramon cares about winning,’’ Fox said of Sessions who he recruited and coached at Nevada, where the Wolf Pack went 81-18 with Sessions at the point. “That’s what he’s about.

“If it means playing 35 minutes one night and 20 the next, that’s what he’ll do. If you go around the NBA, I don’t think you’ll find anyone that has a bad thing to say about Ramon.

“He gave $1 million to his alma mater and he’s never signed one of those $100 million NBA deals. Ramon has never forgotten who he is or where he comes from.’’

Sessions, 31, reportedly agreed to a one-year deal worth $2.3 million to join the Knicks. He’s averaged 10.6 points and 4.1 assists in his 10-year NBA career, mostly as a backup.

Ntilikina is just 19 and will have to adjust to a new country and a more physical style of play than he did in France. He averaged 5.2 points and 1.4 assists off the bench in 18.3 minutes of play for his Strasbourg IG team, which lost in the championship series of the French League.

Ntilikina played in the deciding Game 5, a 74-65 loss to Chalon, less than 24 hours after being drafted by the Knicks with the 8th pick. He took a 2:30 a.m. charter flight back to France.

[Robbins: Ntilikina No Stranger to Pressure]

Despite the jet lag, the emotional whirlwind of being drafted and doing almost two hours of media, Ntilikina scored nine points with two assists, two rebounds and one steal. At 6-foot-5, 190 pounds with a seven-foot wingspan, Ntilikina can develop into a special player.

Baker averaged 4.1 points and 2.1 assists in 16.5 minutes of play as a rookie. He really impressed the Knicks’ brass with his heady play, hustle and physical defense.

[Watch: Baker Thrilled to Be Back With Knicks]

Sessions served as Kemba Walker’s backup last season in Charlotte, averaging 6.2 points and 2.6 assists. He played in just 50 games before having a meniscus tear in his left knee repaired.

Fox said Sessions told him the Knicks were where he wanted to land.

“He said he’s excited to have a chance to help them win,’’ Fox said. “We didn’t get into a lot about the team, but he said he feels he has a chance to add something with his experience and knowledge of the league.’’

When asked if he considered Sessions a high-IQ player, Fox said that was his strength.

“He’s got good size and strength for his position,’’ Fox said of the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Sessions. “He’s a good athlete. But he’s made it in the league because of his basketball IQ and desire to win.

“He sees things on the court and he’s able to take advantage of situations. He’s really good at working with his teammates and talking about what’s happening.’’

Sounds exactly like the kind of mentor the Knicks were looking for.

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Scott Perry to Emphasize Character With Knicks

The day after the NBA Draft has become somewhat what like the opening day of the fishing season – a frenzy of, well, fish stories.

Sports talk radio sounds something like a cross between a live auction and a Sunday morning sermon. Newspapers devote columns and analysis that could take days to sort through. Grades are handed out like sidewalk flyers. The word ‘steal’ is used more than at the Manhattan Criminal Court Building.

There’s no way of truly knowing how any player will pan out. But there are principals that have stood the test of time.

Consider the buzz in Sacramento after the Kings drafted De’Aaron Fox, Henry Giles, Justin Jackson and Frank Mason III.

“Pretty obvious what their priority is,’’ said one Eastern Conference scout. “They went after high-caliber kids that can play. You saw them do the same thing in free agency. Usually, you don’t go wrong with that approach.’’

In free agency, the Kings signed Vince Carter, the poster child for high-caliber NBA talent, Zach Randolph, who made himself into a consummate pro, and most notably George Hill, a serious-minded floor general.

The message was clear: The Kings, once known more for DeMarcus Cousins’ technical fouls and verbal outbursts than winning, were taking a new approach: Hopefully, building a winning team with high character, albeit, talented players.

The man behind that approach? New Knicks GM Scott Perry.

Perry was asked at his introductory press conference if character would be the deciding factor when it came time for the Knicks to draft and/or sign free agents.

[Watch the Full Introductory Press Conference]

“I think that’s definitely an important quality when you’re talking about building a sustainable franchise that can be successful in winning, character plays a big part of it,’’ Perry said. “Obviously there are other attributes as far as basketball skill, and length and other things that are going to be important to us here.

“But in addressing those four individuals, just to give you a little insight into what we thought about them, they all came from great winning programs and understood sacrifice and what it took to win and that will be important to us as we move forward. And I think if you look at any winning franchise in the history of this game, that is pretty much a recurring theme in terms of the type of players you try to get.’’

[Robbins: New-Look Knicks Brass Lays Out Shift In Team’s Vision]

Even though he was not the GM when the Knicks drafted point guard Frank Ntilikina or signed free agent Tim Hardaway Jr., the son of former NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway, they are exactly the type of high-character talents Perry favors.

“He’s a guy that fits in everything that we’re talking about right now, today,’’ Perry said of Ntilikina. “He’s a smart basketball player. Obviously defensively, he focuses defensively and his approach to the game, his work ethic, fit exactly in the direction that we want to take this team.’’

Hardaway Jr., who the Knicks took with the 24th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft before trading him to the Atlanta Hawks in 2015, was one of coach John Beilein’s key recruits in helping to restore Michigan basketball to prominence.

Beilein has one of the most impressive track records in college basketball history of recruiting high-character players and melding them into remarkably successful teams. Hardaway Jr. was exactly Beilein’s kind of player, but more talented than the athletes he was able to land in his first coaching jobs at Canisius, Richmond and West Virginia.

“Tim’s got it,’’ Beilein once said. “He’s grown up with great focus, (knowing) what it takes to achieve. Tim likes to work hard so that he can achieve success and not be given success.”

At his introductory press conference, Hardaway Jr. said he returned to the Knicks a more mature person and player. He talked about his improved eating and sleeping habits and commitment to the game. High character.

[Robbins: Hardaway Returns to Knicks As a More Mature Player]

Perry’s lean toward high-character players comes from his upbringing. He stressed that his mother and father, “taught me love, they taught me confidence, they taught me the importance of treating people the way you want to be treated.’’

It’s with that approach that Perry intends to move forward building a winning franchise with players that understand personal sacrifice for team success. As he said, history has proven that building with high character players is a winning formula.

It might not happen overnight, which can make for some tough days in a city that hasn’t seen an NBA championship since 1973. Perry believes he possesses the character necessary to make it here.

“The best way I’m going to do that is I’m going to be Scott Perry,’’ Perry said. “I’m going to be who I am and what got me here, and that’s a person who’s very up front, straight forward, a hard worker, and I’m going to be available as much as I can be available.

“I want to make sure that I see myself as a bridge-builder, not a bridge-destroyer.’’

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Cosmos Ready to Rise in Fall Season

By: Lucky Ngamwajasat

In most leagues, an end-of-the-season result like the Cosmos recorded against FC Edmonton on July 15 would seem innocuous.

Mathematically eliminated from Spring Season contention, New York finished the campaign with a 1-0 win in Alberta. They finished the 16-game schedule with a record of 6-6-4 with 24 points overall and in third place behind Miami FC and the San Francisco Deltas.

Miami FC is guaranteed a berth in the chase for the NASL Championship at the end of the season as the winners of the Spring Season. The winner of the Fall Season, set to begin on Saturday, is also locked into a berth in the postseason tournament. Should the Cosmos not win the Fall Season, the result in Edmonton could play a factor. The final two berths in the postseason tournament are given to the teams with the combined best records in both the Spring and the Fall.

By virtue of goals scored, the Cosmos finished in third place ahead of the Jacksonville Armada due to goals scored during the Spring campaign. That could prove vital should the two teams find themselves battling for a coveted playoff spot.

New York finished two points behind the Deltas but had a superior goal differential in the Spring. Should the two teams find themselves tied for a berth in the postseason tournament, the Cosmos would just need to better the Deltas in the Fall Season by two points in order to clinch the tiebreaker.

ARANGO RE-JOINS COSMOS

In the brief period between the Spring and Fall Seasons, New York reloaded by adding a former NASL MVP to its ranks.

Juan Arango will return to the Cosmos in the Fall after being re-signed earlier this week. The former Borussia Monchengladbach man and Venezuelan international is back after a brief stint earlier this year with Venezuelan club Zulia FC.

“We welcome the 2016 NASL MVP, Juan Arango, back to our club,” said Cosmos Head Coach and Sporting Director Giovanni Savarese in a statement released by the club. “His experience and quality will provide a tremendous resource to our team this year.”

Arango is the all-time leader for Venezuela in appearances and goals, recording 127 caps and 23 goals. In 29 games for the Cosmos in 2016, the midfielder tallied 15 goals and 9 assists.

RYAN RICHTER SOUNDS OFF ON TEAMMATES

Recently, MSGNetworks.com had the opportunity to speak with Cosmos right back Ryan Richter and asked the 28-year-old some pointed questions about his teammates. Find out what he had to say in the premiere of Teammates!

Who's the toughest player on the New York Cosmos? The guy who spends the most time on his hair? Defender Ryan Richter answers all in this edition of Teammates!

A LOOK AHEAD: VS. MIAMI FC

The Cosmos begin the Fall portion of their schedule Saturday night against Miami FC at MCU Park. Live coverage gets under way at 7 PM on MSG+.

New York played Miami FC three times during the Spring campaign, recording a record of 1-2-0.

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Red Bulls Start Reloading With Fidel Escobar

One down, one more definitely to go and perhaps even more possible additions for a New York Red Bulls side that appears to be doing some reloading during the summer transfer window.

Fidel Escobar has gotten his paperwork, the team announced on Thursday, making official a long-rumored addition. A Panamanian international, Escobar brings much-needed depth to a backline that has struggled at junctures this year. But the addition of Escobar is likely just the beginning.

NEWS: @NewYorkRedBulls Add Panama International Fidel Escobar on Loan. Check out his message to #RBNY fans!

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Muhamed Keita, a Norwegian U-23, has been linked with the club strongly in recent days and could be the next signing to be made official.

But wait, there’s more.

Another addition or two might be in the mix for a Red Bulls side replete with allocation money and roster flexibility.

Earlier this offseason, head coach Jesse Marsch said that the team could be eyeing up to three additions this summer window and it appears that the club is still wading through those evaluations.

[Listen: Jesse Marsch on the Red Bulls Insider Podcast]

“Well, I think we have room to make even more than three. We’re still evaluating and looking at different situations with different players,” Marsch said Thursday.

“I think there’s two for sure – and Fidel is one of them. From there I think we’ve got a few others on the radar and see how our team rounds. I think it will be important to get Fidel and our next one into the team and really get them integrated and address what we think, how they’re thinking, what’s next.

“We have a lot of flexibility in our roster right now. Every year, we try to leave in the mid-break to make improvements from a player perspective. This year’s no different.”

One bit of intrigue comes in the form of Dilly Duka. Recently released by Columbus Crew SC, Duka came up through the Red Bulls Academy and has a strong MLS resume.

He trained with the team on Thursday and is an attacking option that makes plenty of sense for the Red Bulls to explore.

Marsch corrected the idea that it was merely a local player – Duka hails from nearby Montville, N.J. – getting in some training.

“I would say it’s more we’re evaluating him and seeing what it looks like. I’d say it’s more than just a training stint,” Marsch said.

“I even made it clear to Dilly: We know he’s local kid, he’s connected to our academy, I know he’s been around. I’ve watched him over the years, I know he’s a talented guy. Let’s see if he can acclimate to how we do things here.”

For now, Escobar is in house with his deal all closed-up. He seems to be an ideal fit for the Red Bulls backline and the prototypical signing for what this team is trying to add.

“We’re excited. We’ve been tracking him for awhile. During the Gold Cup, we were able to spend a little bit more time with him and get to know him. Then it became more clear that he’d be a good fit,” Marsch said.

“He’s got to acclimate a little bit, learning English and being in the US. We think he’s a very talented young center back who plays the way we like to play and has a very high potential to fit right into our system.”

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Giants Training Camp Live Returns to MSG Networks This Friday

First Day of Training Camp Kicks Off with 9AM Live Report, 11:30AM Live “Kickoff” Special, and First Episode of “Giants Training Camp Live” at 6PM

Live Giants Coverage Through August 29th Brings Giants Fans the Latest News and Analysis from Giants Training Camp Every Weekday

New York, NY (July 26, 2017) – MSG Networks (NYSE: MSGN) and the New York Giants have announced that MSG and MSG+ will telecast “Giants Training Camp Live” beginning Friday, July 28 through Tuesday, August 29.

The 30-minute, live show will telecast weeknights at 6pm on both networks following scheduled Giants training camp sessions. Encore presentations of each show will be telecast later in the night. MSG Networks, the official Regional Sports Home of the New York Giants, will telecast a variety of weekly Giants programming during the NFL season.

MSG Networks begins the all-day Giants takeover, presented by Mercedes-Benz, at 9am on Friday, July 28, which includes “Giants Training Camp Live: Kickoff Special.” Bob Papa and David Diehl will deliver live reports every half hour through 6pm from the Giants’ practice facility, the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, in East Rutherford, NJ.

At 11:30am, the 30-minute show – “Giants Training Camp Live: Kickoff Special” – will follow on MSG, providing an exclusive, sneak-peek into the Giants first day of training camp practice right from the sidelines. Giants programming on July 28 will then culminate with the first episode of “Giants Training Camp Live” at 6pm.

Following the all-day Giants takeover, “Giants Training Camp Live” will telecast weeknights at 6pm and feature Bob Papa along with special expert analysts every night, including Carl Banks, Howard Cross, David Diehl, Shaun O’Hara, Amani Toomer, Antrel Rolle, Jeff Feagles and Paul Dottino as they recap the day’s activities. Each show will air live from the Giants’ practice facility and include exclusive training camp footage and interviews with Giants players, coaches, and reporters, as well as social media updates.

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Rangers Counting on Zibanejad to Step Up in Big Way

The money isn’t what will raise expectations on Rangers center Mika Zibanejad. Whether you pay a player five cents or $50 million doesn’t make him better or worse.

No, the expectations on Zibanejad being better and taking a step up in performance come from need.

The Rangers and Zibanejad narrowly avoided salary arbitration Tuesday, agreeing to a new five-year contract worth an annual cap hit of $5.35 million (which was Zibanejad’s demand, while the Rangers offered $4.1 million prior to the arbitration hearing).

Fresh off of signing a five-year contract with the Rangers, take a look back at some of Mika Zibanejad's highlights from his first year in New York.

Rangers GM Jeff Gorton was willing to go to that dollar figure to buy three years of unrestricted free agency from his 24-year-old center, who enters his second season as a Ranger.

[Fischler: Rangers Re-Sign Mika]

Having dealt Derek Stepan prior to the NHL entry draft, the Rangers need Zibanejad to take over Stepan’s offensive contributions and some of his many responsibilities in matchup and defensive roles. Whether Stepan was or wasn’t a legit No. 1 center is arguable, but the same can be said for Zibanejad, and the Rangers fell short with both last season. Now they have one.

They will go into the coming season, barring a trade, with Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, possibly J.T. Miller, David Desharnais, and perhaps either, or both, rookies Lias Andersson and Boo Nieves, as their centers. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault prefers Miller as a winger, but might have to move Miller back to his original position due to necessity.

Zibanejad is a better skater, better shooter, stronger and better on faceoffs than Stepan, but Stepan was better defensively, was a stalwart on the penalty kill, and produced solid, if not stellar, numbers. Zibanejad should benefit from having first-line type wingers and from having newcomer Kevin Shattenkirk feeding him pucks for one-timers on the power play.

“Seeing Derek being traded was a little bit of an alert to me that I might get a chance to play a bigger role,” Zibanejad said. “As a player, you always want to more responsibility and a bigger role. It’s something that I am working really hard to make sure that I take advantage of the chance that I am getting.”

He simply must, because the Rangers need him to do so.

“You always want to improve and develop and there have always been moments where you feel you can take your game to the next level and that is what I am working on in the summer, doing all the things that I can do to prepare myself for this opportunity,” Zibanejad said. “And I don’t think there is a single guy out there that would say no to an opportunity like this. I’m super, super happy and excited for the season. You always want to improve and be better than last season. I’m super pumped and excited for this upcoming season.”

Zibanejad had 14 goals, 23 assists in just 56 games last season, which started strongly for him, but hit a major speed bump when he broke his leg sliding into the end boards in overtime of a Nov. 20 game. Though he had some moments upon returning, his game didn’t seem back to where it was until the playoffs.

Now he jumps from a No. 2 center with a high ceiling to a No. 1, with Hayes jumping from No. 3 to No. 2.

On a conference call, Mika Zibanejad talks about how contract negotiations progressed, how excited he is to be staying in New York, the responsibility of being a No. 1 center and much more.

The Rangers avoided arbitration, as they have every summer since 2009 when Nik Zherdev went through the process and the Rangers walked away from his awarded contract.

With the arbitration date, a 48-hour (until Thursday) buyout window opened for the Rangers. It seems unlikely they will use it on veteran defenseman Marc Staal if for no other reason than it would create eight years of dead cap space, especially since they already have six years of dead cap space due to the earlier buyout of Dan Girardi.

With the Zibanejad signing, the Rangers have approximately $3.05 million worth of cap space remaining, with just 12 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies. That includes Jesper Fast, who will start the season on injured reserve after hip surgery. They have no significant players still unsigned.

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Rangers Re-Sign Mika While Isles & Devils Busy Too

Regarded as the heir apparent to Derek Stepan as the Rangers top center, Mika Zibanejad now will be preparing to prove he’s worth every dollar of his newly-minted contract.

Celebrating a five-year, $5.35 million annual pact, the 24-year-old Swede virtually bubbled over the prospects of his second season as a Blueshirt.

“I’m super-happy,” Zibanejad exulted in a Tuesday conference call. “I always wanted more responsibility.”

On a conference call, Mika Zibanejad talks about how contract negotiations progressed, how excited he is to be staying in New York, the responsibility of being a No. 1 center and much more.

He’ll get that as the new top pivot, with Kevin Hayes following in the pecking order and J.T. Miller and David Desharnais rounding out the anticipated centermen.

While a serious left leg injury (fractured fibula) cost him 26 games in 2016-17, Mika tallied 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 56 games.

“Now,” he explained, “I want to take my game to the next level and already am preparing for this opportunity.”

Obtained from Ottawa on July 18, 2016 along with the Senators’ second-round pick in 2018, Zibanejad cost the Rangers Derick Brassard, who moved to Canada’s capital along with New York’s seventh-round pick in the 2018 Draft.

Admittedly sad about losing former teammates Stepan, Oscar Lindberg, Antti Raanta, Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein, Zibanejad views the new edition Rangers with optimism.

“Yes, I was disappointed in the way we finished in the playoffs,” he said, “but I feel good about our additions, including Kevin Shattenkirk on our defense.”

The New Rochelle product, Shattenkirk will be abetted by recently-re-signed Brendan Smith and Anthony DeAngelo, the young defense talent obtained from Arizona in the Stepan-Raanta exchange.

Completing his first New York season, Mika sported a plus-nine rating and was lauded for his blend of speed, skill and deadly shot.

Fresh off of signing a five-year contract with the Rangers, take a look back at some of Mika Zibanejad's highlights from his first year in New York.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder skated in a dozen playoff games with two goals and seven assists for nine points and a plus-four rating. His injury really was Mika’s only meaningful downer in his Rangers debut season.

Meanwhile, the Islanders emphasized their faith in large (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) Adam Pelech as a potential top-four backliner.

General Manager Garth Snow made sure that the Toronto native was protected in the Expansion Draft and with good reason. Pelech has proven to be solid in his own end with some offensive upside.

His deal calls for four years at $1.6 million annually which has Adam thrilled and delighted.

“It’s a great feeling when an organization puts that type of faith in you,” he told Newsday. “Hopefully, over the next four years I can establish myself as an NHL regular and push the Islanders to the playoffs.”

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 09: Adam Pelech #50 of the New York Islanders looks on against the Ottawa Senators during an NHL game at Barclays Center on April 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ryan/NHLI via Getty Images)

Across the Hudson River, the Devils inked their version of Pelech by the name of Mirco Mueller, 22, who had been with the San Jose Sharks.

Like Pelech, the native of Switzerland, measures 6-foot-3, 210 and figures to make the New Jersey varsity, vying for a spot on the third D-pair, likely with Ben Lovejoy.

Mueller’s deal calls for two years at $800,000 per year.

Up front, General Manager Ray Shero returned hustling Joseph Blandisi to his roster. Joltin’ Joe has a two-year, two-way pact at $680,000 at the NHL level. Some observers believe that he’ll start the season in the AHL.

Learn more about Devils prospect Joseph Blandisi, a talented forward playing for the Albany Devils.

Once promising goalie Scott Wedgwood gets another chance to prove he has a shot at the bigs after signing a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

A torn labrum in his right shoulder required surgery last season and virtually cost him a good hockey year. He appeared in only 10 games but could surprise this time around in mint condition.

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Rangers Re-Sign Mika Zibanejad to 5-Year Deal

Mika Zibanejad is staying in New York!

The Rangers announced that they signed the 24-year-old center to a five-year deal worth an average $5.35 million per year.

In his first season on Broadway, Zibanejad skated in 56 games, recording 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points. He also had two goals and seven assists in 12 playoff games, including the overtime game-winner in Game 5 of the first round against Montreal.

Zibanejad, a native of Huddinge, Sweden, was originally drafted sixth overall by the Senators in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and was acquired from Ottawa last offseason in exchange for Derick Brassard.

Fresh off of signing a five-year contract with the Rangers, take a look back at some of Mika Zibanejad's highlights from his first year in New York.

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Where Libs Stand Entering Second Half of Season

With one minute and 32 seconds left in what would turn out to be the Liberty’s most impressive win of the season, a 96-80 knockout of the Eastern Conference-leading Connecticut Sun on July 19th at The Garden, all five New York starters were on the bench, a smile on their faces.

Such a sight seemed improbable after the Liberty returned from a 12-day road trip and proceeded to drop a 78-68 home decision to the last place Chicago Sky on July 14th.

That loss dropped New York to 8-9. Those preseason expectations of playing for the franchise’s first-ever WNBA title seemed as far fetched as a Congressional agreement on a new healthcare insurance plan.

“That was the low point,’’ acknowledged Shavonte Zellous. “We weren’t having any fun on the court.”

After that game, team president Isiah Thomas visited the locker room and told the players to remember to have fun.

[Robbins: Inspirational Pep Talk Gets Liberty Back on Track]

Coach Bill Laimbeer went back to Bria Hartley as the starting point guard. That allowed Epiphanny Prince to move back to her more natural two-guard spot.

Sugar Rodgers, a first-time All Star, made those moves seamless by accepting a new role as the sixth man. Rodgers isn’t the first Liberty player to sacrifice for the good of the team but when one of the league’s top 3-point shooters doesn’t make waves, it sends a message.

After the victory over Connecticut, Tina Charles, who scored 28 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, was asked what message she had for her teammates before they went their separate ways for the WNBA All-Star break.

“I just told them to be safe and enjoy themselves.’’ said Charles, a Queens native and former Christ the King star.

From ‘No Fun,’ to ‘Enjoy Themselves,’ in five days.

“We know we’re a good team,’’ Charles said. “At times it’s just we still have to figure it out.

“A lot of teams are able to figure it out at the beginning of the season, they have experience like in Minnesota and L.A. and then you have teams that are still figuring it out along the way and that’s where we are.

“I think everybody’s being very professional. Everybody’s getting better in their position and their role for this team. We’re just starting to click.

“So for me the position where we’re at, I’m happy we were able to handle that adversity. I’m happy we were able to respond. We didn’t kick ourselves. We’re moving.’’

Charles and Rodgers moved on to the All Star game were both acquitted themselves very well.

Charles scored eight points on 2-of-4 shooting on 3’s and had two rebounds and two assists in just 14-plus minutes. Rodgers scored 10 points and had three rebounds in 19 minutes in her inaugural All-Star game. She also took 2nd in the 3-point shooting contest.

Bottom line: Charles got some much-needed rest and Rodgers got the affirmation that she’s one of the new wave WNBA stars, a far cry from when she averaged 1.9 points and played just 7.6 minutes as a rookie with the Minnesota Lynx.

[Robbins: All-Star Duo Shining Brightly For Liberty]

“I’ve always believed that I was a star,’’ Rodgers said. “I told Bill and people that I’m a star. Now I’m really a star.’’

The Liberty (10-9) resume play Tuesday night with a huge test at the 1st-place Minnesota Lynx. The team arrived in the Twin Cities on Sunday and practiced Monday.

Laimbeer had some concern about how the break would affect the team. The last two games, an 85-55 blowout of Washington and the rout of the Sun, saw New York post its best back-to-back performances of the season.

“The structure that we have right now is good for us,’’ Laimbeer said. “We’re pushing the pace better. We’re getting easier baskets. We have good role definition.

“We’re not fully there. I think they enjoy what we have right now and it’s been showing in the way we’ve been playing.”

With 15 games remaining in the season, here’s a look at what would help the Liberty, currently sixth in the overall standings, move into a Top 4 playoff slot and receive a first-round bye.

1. Get the Queens Bee Some Rest

The competition for league MVP has been whittled down to Charles, Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles and reigning MVP Nneka Ogwumike.

Charles is second in scoring (20.5) and rebounding (9.9). Ogwumike is third in scoring (20.3). Fowles (20.1) is fourth. Fowles is third in rebounding (9.8) while Ogwumike (7.9) is 10th.

Here’s the rub. Charles is playing 33.2 minutes per game, second in the league. Fowles is at 29.9 and Ogwumike is at 31.6.

That might not seem like a significant number but look at this way. Over a 34-game schedule, Charles will play 112.2 more minutes than Fowles, or almost three more games.

As well conditioned as Charles is, the Liberty need to reduce her minutes. The game plan can’t change. Establishing Charles early is the first order of offensive business. The season goes through her. It will go better if she’s rested.

2. Dynamic Trio

Epiphanny Prince and Shavonte Zellous are the two best players on the team at creating their own shot and attacking the paint from the perimeter.

Rodgers is the best shooter as evidenced by her taking second in the WNBA All Star 3-point shooting contest.

When two of the three score in double figures, the Liberty is 5-4. Prince and Zellous are developing a feel for when each player is hot and in attack mode. Rodgers is adjusting to her new role off the bench.

Come playoff time, it would be a great advantage to have at least two of the three scoring in double figures on a consistent basis. It takes the load off Charles and makes the Liberty harder to defend.

3. Bench Marks

The loss of starting point guard Brittany Boyd in the second game of the season sent ripple effects throughout the first half of the season.

As Laimbeer tried different combinations it not only altered the starting lineup but the bench composition. Assuming there are no significant injuries, the rotation should stabilize in the second half of the season, which means the players coming off the bench should know their roles and develop some consistency. They’ll have to.

In seven of the nine Liberty losses, the bench failed to outscore the opponent. Six times the bench was outscored and in one loss bench scoring was equal.

Laimbeer’s decision to bring Rodgers off the bench could be the difference maker. With her 3-point shooting and overall offensive game, she can be the Jamal Crawford of the WNBA.

4. Get the Point

Boyd’s injury might have derailed some other teams. But the Liberty’s depth – a credit to Thomas and Laimbeer – is why the team was able to overcome the loss of its starting point guard.

Laimbeer first turned to Bria Hartley, who was four months removed from the birth of her son and some nine months since she last played in a regular-season game. Naturally, there was an acclimation period.

[Robbins: Hartley Balancing Motherhood & Career]

Laimbeer turned to Prince when she returned from Europe after playing in the 2017 FIBA EuroBasket Tournament. Prince, however, is more of a shooting guard than a point guard and the Liberty went 1-4 with her as the lead guard.

Laimbeer then went back to Hartley. The team looked the best it has in the first half of the season, beating the Washington Mystics and Connecticut Sun by an average of 23 points.

“For me, it was more of a confidence thing,’’ said Hartley. “Physically I felt good, but when you don’t play in a game in such a long time, you lose a little of that confidence. I feel like I’ve got that back.’’

In addition to Hartley, the Liberty caught a huge break. They waived top draft choice Lindsay Allen after training camp and shockingly, no WNBA team picked up the former Notre Dame All-American.

New York resigned her and ‘L.A. Cruisen’ gets better with every game. Her plus/minus rating of +34 is fourth best on the team and the Liberty is 7-0 when she has a plus rating. If Hartley and Allen continue their solid play, the Liberty get the point.

[Robbins: Second Opportunity Beckons For Allen]

5. Garden of Dreams

The Liberty is 7-4 at home and 3-5 on the road. They begin the second half of the season on a five-game road trip in which they will face the two best teams in the league – Minnesota and L.A. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the Liberty will play six of their final 10 games at the World’s Most Famous Arena. The Liberty is averaging 82.5 points at home and 74.1 away. They’re allowing 78 points per game at home and 81.3 on the road.

In between starting the road trip in Minnesota and ending it in L.A., the Liberty face the three worst teams in the WNBA. The Indiana Fever, Chicago Sky and San Antonio Stars have a combined record of 19-44.

If the Liberty go 3-2 on the trip and take care of business at home, they have a good chance of seizing one of the top four seeds in the playoffs.

That would make the dream of winning the franchise’s first ever WNBA title a little more attainable.

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OFFICIAL RULES: The MSG/New York Red Bulls Kick It to Win $100K Sweepstakes

Official Rules
NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A PURCHASE WILL NOT INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING.

ENTRY PERIOD: You can enter The MSG/New York Red Bulls Kick It to Win $100K Sweepstakes (“Sweepstakes”) between 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time (“ET”) on July 22, 2017 and 11:59 p.m. ET on September 24, 2017 (“Entry Period”). Sponsor shall have the sole discretion in determining the timeliness of any action or inaction related to this Sweepstakes. All times mentioned in these Official Rules are in Eastern Time, unless expressly noted otherwise.

ELIGIBILITY: This Sweepstakes is only open to legal United States residents who live within a seventy-five (75) mile radius from Red Bull Arena, located at 600 Cape May Street, Harrison, New Jersey 07029 (“Territory”), 18 or older. Current or former professional or semi-professional soccer players and coaches are not eligible to participate. Current or former high school or college soccer players or coaches who have played or coached (as applicable) within the past five (5) years are not eligible to participate. Anyone who has played or coached an Olympic or international soccer team in the past five (5) years or who has played as a field-goal kicker for Varsity high school, college or semi-professional, or professional football in the past five (5) years are not eligible. Employees, officers, directors, successors, assignees and agents of MSGN Holdings, L.P. (“Sponsor”), Red Bull New York, Inc. (“RBNY”), Red Bull Arena, Inc., Major League Soccer, L.L.C. (“MLS”) and Soccer United Marketing, L.L.C. (“SUM”), participating sponsors/partners, and their respective parents, subsidiaries, affiliates and advertising and promotion agencies/companies, public relations agencies, prize suppliers, including any vendors providing services in connection with this sweepstakes (collectively, the “Sweepstakes Entities”) and members of their immediate family (spouse, parent, children, siblings and their respective spouses, regardless of where they reside) and persons living in the same household, whether or not related, are not eligible. Void outside the Territory and where prohibited. Subject to all applicable federal, state and local laws.

HOW TO ENTER: During the Entry Period, to enter, visit Msgnetworks.com/Sweeps (“Sweepstakes Entry Page”) and follow the directions to complete and submit the entry form. Bonus Entry: Entrants can receive up to three (3) bonus entries by watching a participating New York Red Bulls live broadcast on MSG Networks (collectively, “Participating Broadcasts”) then visiting msgnetworks.com/redbulls during the Sweepstakes Period and following the directions to provide the secret Watch & Win code. Each Participating Broadcast Watch & Win secret code is worth one (1) bonus entry. The Watch & Win secret code for each Participating Broadcast will be announced twice on-air, and also be posted on msgnetworks.com/redbulls during each Participating Broadcast. The Participating Broadcasts include July 29, 2017, August 12, 2017 and September 23, 2017. To be eligible for any First Prize drawing, entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. ET on the day of the applicable Participating Broadcast. All entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. ET on September 24, 2017 to be eligible for the Grand Prize drawing. Entries generated by script, macro or other automated means or by any means which subvert the entry process are void. No entrant can earn more than four (4) entries in this Sweepstakes. Entries become the sole property of Sponsor. Sponsor reserves the right to disqualify any entry and remove any post that it determines, in its sole discretion, is not in compliance with these Official Rules.

WINNER DETERMINATION: First Prize Drawing: One (1) potential First Prize winner will be selected by Sponsor in a random drawing following the Participating Broadcast from among all eligible entries received up to time of such drawing, for a total of three (3) First Prize winners. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received for the applicable drawing. Nonwinning entries from one First Prize drawing will carry forward into subsequent First Prize drawings following each applicable Participating Broadcast. Grand Prize Drawing: One (1) potential Grand Prize winner will be selected by Sponsor in a random drawing on or about September 25, 2017 from among all eligible entries received for the Entry Period. First Prize winners are eligible to win the Grand Prize. Sponsor’s decisions with respect to winner determination are final and binding.

WINNER NOTIFICATION: Potential First Prize winners will be notified one (1) business day following the applicable Participating Broadcast and the potential Grand Prize winner will be notified one (1) business day following the New York Red Bulls live broadcast on MSG Networks scheduled to take place on September 25, 2017.  Potential winners will be contacted via email and/or telephone and may be required to execute and return an affidavit of eligibility, a publicity release (except where prohibited), a liability release and a copy of his/her valid personal identification card bearing his/her photograph, name, age, and address within twenty-four (24) hours of date of notification. Return of a prize or prize notification as undeliverable, failure to sign and return requested documentation within the specified time period, the inability of Sponsor to contact a potential winner within a reasonable time period or noncompliance with these Official Rules by a potential winner will result in disqualification and, at Sponsor’s sole discretion, the prize may be awarded to an alternate winner for the drawing at issue, time permitting. No one is an official winner until the Sponsor’s verification is complete.

Prizes:  FIrst Prize (3) (one (1) per Drawing): Winner will receive two (2) general admission tickets to a 2017 New York Red Bulls game taking place at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. Approximate Retail Value: $180-$360.  Exact game will be determined by Sponsor. Transportation to and from game is not included as part of prize.

Grand Prize (1):  Winner will receive four (4) tickets to the New York Red Bulls home game against DC United, scheduled to take place on September 27, 2017 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. Prize also includes club seats, including complimentary food and beverages (excluding alcohol), and on field pre-game access (subject to signing and returning to Sponsor a waiver and release as required in accordance with the RBNY’s standard policies and procedures) as well as the opportunity to participate in the a kick challenge at half-time
(“Half-time Kick Challenge”) (see details below) for the chance to win $100,000. Exact details of the food and beverage(s) is subject to availability and will be determined by Sponsor, and exact details of on field pre-game access will be determined by Sponsor. Approximate Retail Value: $800. Transportation to and from game is not included as part of prize. The Grand Prize must be accepted in its entirety. Unless otherwise approved by Sponsor, Grand Prize winner cannot designate someone else to participate in the Half-Time Kick Challenge on his/her behalf. If the Grand Prize winner does not wish to participate in the Half-Time Kick Challenge, he/she will forfeit the Grand Prize.

Half-Time Kick Challenge: The winner will be brought out onto the field where he/she will participate in the Half-Time Kick Challenge. The winner will be given one (1) chance to kick a regulation soccer ball through a specific target hole from a designated spot on the field. The soccer ball must be kicked from the ground. No practice, warm-up or qualifying kicks will be permitted. If the winner steps on or over the designated line before kicking the soccer ball, the kick will be disqualified. A successful kick consists of the winner kicking a regulation-sized soccer ball through a specific target hole. Decisions of Sponsor with respect to whether a winner “successfully” kicks the soccer ball through the target are final and binding. If the winner does not make a successful kick, the $100,000 will not be awarded.

Winner understands that Sponsor or its designees may photograph, film and otherwise record the Half-Time Kick Challenge (collectively, the “Challenge Footage”) and that, as between Winner and Sponsor, the Challenge Footage will be owned by Sponsor, who has the right to reproduce, distribute, perform, create derivative works of, edit, alter, display, exhibit, combine with other materials, exploit and otherwise use the Challenge Footage and all elements embodied therein, along with winner’s name, voice, biographical information, image and/or likeness, or performance, in any manner and in any and all media now known or hereafter devised throughout the universe for any purpose whatsoever, including, without limitation, for commercial purposes, without further compensation or notification to, or permission from, winner.  Winner hereby waives any moral rights in Challenge Footage.

Ticket Conditions/Restrictions: Tickets are subject to certain terms and conditions as specified by issuer. The terms and conditions of the tickets will govern if the game is cancelled due to weather, an act of God, an act of terrorism, civil disturbance or any other reason. MLS game, event, and exhibition times are determined in the sole discretion of MLS and/or applicable MLS team, as applicable, and may be subject to change.  Released Parties (as defined below) are not responsible for, and will not replace, lost, mutilated, or stolen tickets.  Seat locations will be determined by Sponsor.  Winner and guests must comply with all venue rules and regulations.  Failure to do so may result in forfeiture of prize. The applicable Sweepstakes Entities reserve the right to remove or deny entry to winner and/or his/her guest who engage(s) in non-sportsmanlike or disruptive manner, or with the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person at the game, event or exhibition. If, for whatever reason, Sponsor is unable to provide access to the team warm-up, no compensation or substitution will be provided; however, remainder of prize package will be awarded and Sponsor will have no further obligation to winner.

General Prize Conditions/Restrictions: Prizes are non-assignable and nontransferable and cannot be redeemed for cash.  Prizes are awarded “as is” with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied, in connection with this Sweepstakes or any prize.  Winners are responsible for all federal, state and local taxes as well as any costs and expenses associated with prize acceptance and use not specified herein as being provided, including, but not limited to, transportation to and from the game.  Winners may not substitute a prize, but Sponsor reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to substitute a prize (or portion thereof) with one of comparable or greater value. All prize details are at Sponsor’s sole discretion.  Limit one (1) First Prize per person/household.    

PUBLICITY GRANT:  Acceptance of a prize constitutes permission to use each winner’s name, social media user name(s), biographical information, city and state of residence, voice, photograph (including, social media profile photo(s)), image and/or likeness by Sponsor and its designees for advertising, promotional and other purposes, in any and all media now known or hereafter devised, in any manner, worldwide, in perpetuity, without further compensation, notification or permission from entrant or any third party and without prior notice, approval or inspection, and to execute specific consent to such use if asked to do so, unless prohibited by law.

GENERAL CONDITIONS:  By participating, each entrant agrees: (a) under no circumstances will entrant be permitted to obtain awards for, and entrant hereby waives, all rights to claim, punitive, incidental, consequential or any other damages, other than for actual out-of-pocket expenses; (b) all causes of action arising out of or connected with the Sweepstakes, or the selection of the Grand or First Prize winners, shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action; (c) any and all claims, judgments and awards shall be limited to actual out-of-pocket costs incurred, excluding attorney’s fees. Each entrant further agree: (a) to abide by these Official Rules and decisions of Sponsor and judges, which shall be final and binding in all respects; (b) to assume all risk, responsibility and liability for any personal bodily injury, losses, harm, damage (including, without limitation, property damage, personal injury and death), claim (including, without limitation, claims based on copyright or trademark infringement, rights of publicity or privacy, defamation and portrayal in a false light), actions, costs and expenses  directly or indirectly arising from participation in this Sweepstakes; and (c) to indemnify, release, discharge and hold harmless the Sweepstakes Entities, and their respective parents, subsidiaries, affiliates and advertising and promotion agencies and all of the foregoing entities’ respective officers, directors, shareholders, members, agents and employees and their successors and assigns (collectively, “Released Parties”) from any and all claims, injuries, liability, losses and damages of any kind to persons, including death, or property resulting, in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, from or relating to entrant’s or winner’s participation in the Sweepstakes or the Half-Time Kick Challenge, the operation of this Sweepstakes, the acceptance or use of a prize (including any travel or activity related thereto), any typographical or other error in these Official Rules or any other materials disseminated by Sponsor or any Sweepstakes Entity, any technical malfunction, failure, error, omission, interruption, deletion, defect, delay in operation or communications line failure, regardless of cause, with any equipment, systems, networks, lines, satellites, servers, computers, or providers used by entrant.  Released Parties are not responsible for (i) lost, late, incomplete, damaged, inaccurate, stolen, delayed, misdirected, undelivered or garbled entries, tweets or comments or messages; (ii) lost, interrupted or unavailable network, server, Internet Service Provider (ISP), website, or other connections, availability or accessibility or miscommunications; (iii) failed computer, satellite, telephone or cable transmissions, lines, or technical failure; (iv) jumbled, scrambled, delayed, or misdirected transmissions or computer hardware or software malfunctions, failures or difficulties; (v) other errors or difficulties of any kind, whether human, mechanical, electronic, computer, network, typographical, printing or otherwise, relating to or in connection with the sweepstakes, including, without limitation, errors or difficulties which may occur in connection with the administration of the sweepstakes, the processing of entries, the announcement of the prizes or Sweepstakes-related materials; (vi) any incorrect or inaccurate information, whether caused by users, tampering, hacking, or by any equipment or programming associated with or utilized in the Sweepstakes; or (vii) injury or damage to any person’s computer related to or resulting from participating in this Sweepstakes.  Persons who tamper with or abuse any aspect of the Sweepstakes or the MSG Networks page or social media account, who act in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner or who are in violation of these Official Rules, as solely determined by Sponsor, will be disqualified and all associated entries will be void. Should any portion of the Sweepstakes be, in Sponsor’s sole opinion, compromised by virus, worms, bugs, non-authorized human intervention or other causes which, in the sole opinion of the Sponsor, corrupt or impair the administration, security, fairness or proper play, or submission of entries, Sponsor reserves the right at its sole discretion to suspend, modify or terminate the Sweepstakes (or any portion thereof) and if terminated, at its discretion, select winner for the daily Sweepstakes at issue at random from all eligible, non-suspect entries received for that Sweepstakes prior to action taken or as otherwise deemed fair and appropriate by Sponsor. Information submitted in connection with this Sweepstakes will be used in accordance with Sponsor’s Privacy Policy, available at http://corporate.msgnetworks.com/privacy/.

WINNERS LIST: The names of the winners will be posted on the Sweepstakes Entry Page at Msgnetworks.com/Sweeps following the end of the Sweepstakes.

Sponsor: MSGN Holdings, L.P., 11 Pennsylvania Plaza, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10001.

This Sweepstakes is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. You understand that you are providing your information to Sponsor and not to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.

This Sweepstakes is not sponsored, endorsed or administered by the MLS Entities.

Disclaimer: MSGN Holdings, L.P. is responsible for the collection, submission and processing of entries and the overall administration and execution of this Sweepstakes. Entrants should look solely to MSGN Holdings, L.P., and not any of the other Sweepstakes Entities, regarding any questions related to this Sweepstakes.

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